In previous parts of my six-part overview of the 2011-2012 television season, which concluded back in May, I discussed at length the shows that worked and those that didn’t, or concentrated on elements within them. For the third part, as we breach the halfway point in this series, we’ll look at actors and actresses that have given rock-solid performances this past season and those that have impressed far beyond expectation.
As always, the selections you’ll see here are of an opinion that is entirely my own and your views and opinions regarding the choices are encouraged. I’m sure you all have your personal favourites so get in on the action and discuss them in the comment box!
Also, the selection of actors below is merely but a fraction of the list of impressive performances this season. To mention them all would rocket the word count up to incomprehensible figures and I’d most likely be writing this post until Christmas.
Lena Heady (Cersei Lannister) – Game of Thrones.
I’ve seen quite the amount of negativity surrounding Lena Heady’s performance in season two of Game of Thrones, usually from forum sites where moaning is the required activity, but my opinion on her skill-set and ability to play the role she was cast for have been marginally different. I never found her performances in season one anything unremarkable but the material she was required to work with in season two have solidified my belief that few, if any, people could portray Cersei as well as she does.
Season two rocked Cersei from pillar to post and then back again, from having to watch her only daughter be carried away from her to coming seconds away from giving her youngest son a deadly dose of poison to spare him from the atrocities about to be dealt his way. Cersei is a manipulative, cruel woman whose only love is for her children and the character requires an actress who can be devilish one second and sympathetic the next. It’s fortunate that Lena Heady can pull both of those prerequisites off remarkably well.
There were moments during season two where despite having committed acts that endangered any possibility of the audience feeling sympathetic to her plight in the future, I genuinely felt for her predicament. Lena Heady makes Cersei the character she is: not a good guy but not a bad guy either. They very much deal in shades of grey in regards to the character and an actress that can only play one or the other would ruin that concept. Luckily that’s not the case here.
Lena Heady’s performance in her role has given a long reel of highlights from the second season, including, but not limited to, her verbal sparring with Tyrion Lannister, played masterfully by Peter Dinklage. One minute they were vowing insufferable misery on each other and then sharing an almost intimate moment the next. Both Heady and Dinklage are exceptional actors and when they’re put together in the same scene, nothing short of brilliance radiates from within.
Cersei had a tricky season, one that threatened her, her family and her position of power, and Lena Heady has shown all of the obligatory emotions whenever it was required of her. I’m especially glad that George R.R. Martin didn’t kill the character off so early on.
Kudos also have to be given based on the amazing hair Lena Heady gets to show off in the role. Because clearly this is a deciding factor in these things. It’s not? Well it should be.
Christine Baranski (Diane Lockhart) – The Good Wife
The Good Wife is a show that prides itself on having a stellar cast and a phenomenal casting department that manages to secure fantastic actors to provide sublime performances. Julianna Marguiles won an Emmy for her superb work last September and she was, once again, fantastic during season three. However, one person in particular stood out among the crowd and that was Ms Lockhart herself, played by the wonderful Christine Baranski.
I’ve always been a fan of Diane’s character, even on the occasions when she doesn’t get a lot of material to work with, but Will’s suspension allowed the character to come forward slightly and enjoy more time on the screen than what was usually given to her, whether it be her activities in the courtroom or her flirting with numerous suitors.
Luckily, Christine Baranski was at the top of her game throughout the majority of the third season, successfully showing Diane at her strong points and at her low points. Although her activities in the courtroom were as mesmerizing as usual, her extracurricular escapades were what provided Diane with some ‘substance’. We’ve never really seen much of Diane outside of the show’s legal environment and it was a pleasure to see the character become more fun and relaxed, largely in part due to Baranski’s portrayal and seamless ability to switch from lawyer to light-hearted.
It also has be mentioned that Baranski and Josh Charles, who plays her partner in the firm, have magnificent on-screen presence together and are a perfect pairing to go alongside Julianna Marguiles. I’ve always maintained the belief that The Good Wife has some magic going through its casting department and I still believe it now.
Danny Pino and Kelli Giddish (Det. Amaro and Det. Rollins) – SVU
SVU started its thirteenth season on new ground, with one half of the leading pair having quit to later grow fangs and become a vampire on True Blood, leaving poor Mariska Hargitay by herself. The show itself was bordering on stale, with no real memorable episodes in recent years, and something needed to be done. In came a new showrunner and two new cast members to reignite the tired, but still breathing, formula. Not only did it succeed but it breathed new life into the entire show, making it thrive as a result.
Introducing new blood so far into a show’s life is especially risky, even more so when they’re replacing a widely-known and well-loved character who exited the show abruptly and without much explanation. Fortunately it was a risk that paid off. Both Pino and Giddish fitted into the cast seamlessly, as though they had always been there, and their characters also did the same by extension.
Pairing Pino with Mariska Hargitay and Giddish with Ice T were a set of decisions that ultimately provided all the characters involved with new ground to walk on. Plus, the show’s decision to show us glimpses of their personal lives and problems made them feel more like actual people that you could relate to, sympathise with and understand. Both actors played their parts as well as anybody could have expected and for them to have been able to fit in with the rest of the cast, who have been around for well over a decade, in just one season is remarkable. Whether it was down to their portrayal or the increased quality of writing is unsure but frankly, a combination of both seems to be the likely choice.
SVU was on fire in its thirteenth season and if season fourteen is to follow in similar footsteps, it too will be great. Chris Meloni, I miss you but with these two around, I can forget about it.
Max Greenfield (Schmidt) – New Girl
Fox’s new comedy, New Girl, was probably one of the most divisive shows in recent years. People loved it, others loathed it and some had an opinion that was born of both. Zoe Deschanel was undoubtedly the main star of the show but whether you considered her the finest in the show is subjective. In my opinion, although she sometimes portrayed moments of brilliance, the main star of New Girl was absolutely Max Greenfield.
Schmidt is a character that it’s really difficult to dislike. He’s obsessive, cheeky, charming and of course it also helps that he’s easy on the eye. When I think of my favourite moments from the show’s first season, most, if not all, come from scenes that involved or centred around Schmidt. The show doesn’t revolve around him but it certainly should.
Greenfield’s ability to make the character of Schmidt the way he is, so much so that he actually trumped the main star of the show, is a testament to how well-received he has been. Whether it was a scene involving Schmidt hilariously chasing after Cece, or something as trivial as obsessing over a piece of furniture, it became something that might just be slightly funny to something that’s hilarious. His on-screen presence trumped that of anybody else around him, to such a degree that I honestly believe he stole the majority of scenes he was in.
New Girl is definitely not the best show around and for the most part, it tries to be too quirky and ends up being frustrating as a result, but Greenfield’s work with the material he was given was nothing short of fantastic. Jess does not make the show – Schmidt does.
Madeleine Stowe (Victoria Grayson) – Revenge
Revenge has two characters that the rest of the show spirals around: Emily, the protagonist, and Victoria, the antagonist. Fortunately, Madeleine Stowe’s portrayal of Victoria was nothing short of sublime, offering emotions ranging from upset, hurt and betrayal to moments of anger, rage and unadulterated cruelty. When Victoria was bad, she was really bad and boy was it terrific.
Although Victoria was the villain of the story, or at least the one set up to be to the audience, her character wasn’t as black and white as villains often are. She committed terrible acts that endangered lives and reputations but there was still some semblance of humanity that prevented her from being an all-and-out bad guy. She functioned perfectly well as the opposing force to Emily’s crusade but also as her own character.
Stowe was the perfect choice for the role of Victoria as her ease at commanding power and dominance over those around her was exactly as required. You could never quite tell whether Victoria was angry or not, as Stowe made it difficult to determine which one it was. As such, her motives were continuously in question, with brief moments that showed her true emotions emerging and they provided an insight into the character as a result. That is, after all, what Victoria was – a character who, to get to their true heart, you had to strip away the outer layers.
Stowe’s ability to portray an emotion without actually portraying it made for an exciting character that never felt tiring to watch. This was especially evident when Victoria and Emily were in scenes with each other, with both clearly despising the other yet showing no such evidence of it. Their tug of war is part of what made Revenge as captivating as it was and I’d be very surprised if it didn’t continue into season two.
Damien Lewis and Claire Danes (Nick Brody and Carrie Matheson) – Homeland
I’m sure that we’re all familiar with just how fantastic Homeland actually is by now. Its first season provided a compelling story with an underlying hint of conspiracy that made it exciting to watch unfold as each week progressed. However, if you push the terrific story aside, you’re left with the brilliant duo consisting of Nick Brody and Carrie Matheson and that’s when the true heart of Homeland is exposed.
Damien Lewis’ depiction of a soldier, returning after eight years spent being tortured and abused as a prisoner of war, was nothing short of incredible. His interactions with the family he’d been apart from for so long were made so much more realistic and ‘human’ due to Lewis’ skills at making the character’s predicament feel traumatic to the audience as well as Brody himself.
It’s not just Damien Lewis that put in a terrific performance either. Carrie was plagued by self-doubt, confusion and an incessant need to prevent an atrocity she was convinced was coming, and Danes rocked the proverbial boat with how much of a positive impression she made. Carrie’s breakdown and subsequent collapse into a depressive state brought the character to her knees but Danes’ superb performance throughout made the situation believable and sympathetic.
Combining the talents of both Lewis and Danes clearly paid off, as Claire Danes won a Golden Globe award for her role. Their chemistry was mesmerizing, their characters deep and motivated by different agendas and ultimately, the show became something rather special with the pair at the forefront. If Homeland does not do well at the Emmys this year, a great injustice will have been committed.
As mentioned earlier, these selections are merely a fraction of the performances that have left an impression on me this season. Although it was broadcast last year, before September and therefore not technically a part of the 2011-2012 season, I’d like to give a mention to Giancarlo Esposito, whose incredible performance in Breaking Bad’s fourth season as the villainous Gustavo Fring transformed the seemingly mild-mannered Fring into one of the most fascinating and chilling villains that I’ve seen on television in some time. I only caught up with Breaking Bad in recent weeks but I am of the firm opinion that his brilliant work should be recognised at the Emmy awards in September.
In the fourth part of this series, I’ll take a look at the performances and characters who did not impress and why that was the case. As with every TV season, for every positive lies a negative and the past season was full of them, unfortunately.
Who did you think did well during the season? Do you agree with the choices made above? Perhaps you thought Zoey Deutch’s (Juliet) performance in Ringer was good? (lol). Either way, have your say in the comment box below.
Click here for part four.